The doctor shortage that has long plagued the health care system in eastern Germany is becoming more pronounced in the western part of the country, experts say.
The German medical system needs a shot in the arm, too, experts say
The shortage of physicians in the country is "no longer a purely eastern German problem," according to the head of the German Physicians' Association (KVB), Andreas Kohler.
"The west is also threatened by a doctor shortage," Kohler told the German weekly news magazine Focus.
German doctors have repeatedly protested working conditions
The president of the German Medical Association, Jörg-Dietrich Hoppe, agreed. Young doctors are increasingly moving away from Germany because they earn more and have better working conditions in other countries, Hoppe told Focus.
Numerous specialties affected
The problem is a long-standing one in Germany, with experts complaining legislators have not acted quickly enough to stem the flow of doctors out of the country. But up to now it has been most pronounced in the country's poorer eastern half.
Now, poorer western regions, like Lower Saxony, Westphalia, and Upper Franconia, are seeing shortages of doctors in the countryside, the magazine reported, citing yet-unreleased data from the KVB and the German Medical Association. This included a shortage of optometrists, gynaecologists, dermatologists and neurologists, the groups said.
Young doctors prefer city hospitals to rural practices
In May, the government proposed legislation aiming to fix the problem. Among other changes, it would relax practitioner law to allow doctors to operate more than one practice, including outside the region where their license was acquired, raise the retirement age, and allowing physicians to hire colleagues to work for them.
Health ministry officials have said, however, that they do not expect the law to usher in major changes.
Urgent plea for change
Meanwhile, Hoppe, the Medical Association's president, said swift and sweeping change is needed in government health care policy -- or else.
"We will slide irrevocably toward a crisis in health-care coverage if the basic working conditions for doctors do not improve very quickly," he said in his interview with Focus.